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General Synod digest: changes to clergy code of practice are approved

15 July 2022
Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Ven. Mark Ireland

The Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Ven. Mark Ireland

CDM Code of Practice

CHANGES to the code of practice for the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) were approved by the General Synod on Monday, despite lingering disquiet about how the process — which is to be replaced — works.

The Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Ven. Mark Ireland (Blackburn), brought three new amendments to the code of practice before a wider debate on the reforms the next day. The first would stop CDM proceedings from automatically pausing when a parallel criminal case was ongoing. If this was approved, to eradicate long delays, CDM processes would continue alongside secular proceedings unless there was good reason to pause to allow a criminal case to conclude.

The second amendment would have the same effect when CDM proceedings were in parallel to an employment-tribunal case, switching the presumption to continuing the CDM proceedings rather than pausing.

The third change affected the publication of penalties, which currently not all dioceses did, Archdeacon Ireland said, while some penalties were difficult to find on diocesan websites. To ensure consistency and transparency, the amendments would make publishing penalties the responsibility of the CDM tribunal itself, through the Church of England website, not the dioceses.

The Archbishop of Canterbury reminded the Synod that these changes were closely related to the work of the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, on the overall working of the CDM. Currently, the CDM could not distinguish between misconduct or accidental error, putting punishments “out of sync” with the crime.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesThe Chair of the House of Laity, Dr Jamie Harrison, also a member of the Clergy Discipline Commission

Gavin Drake (Southwell & Nottingham), opposing the amendments, noted that, in law, the entire code of practice would need to be reapproved by the Synod, not solely the changes. He had misgivings about previous changes to the code last year, especially the presumption of confidentiality, which, he said, had silenced claimants and respondents, and contradicted the notion of open justice. He urged the Synod to go for the “nuclear option” by rejecting the entire code.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, backed the amendments, particularly welcoming the abolition of the rule that halted CDM proceedings until criminal cases had concluded. The publication of penalties had been “utterly fraught”, he said, and he looked forward to the responsibility being handed over to the tribunals.

The Dean of the Arches and Auditor, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, had sympathy with the arguments from Archbishop Welby about aiming for proportionality as well as transparency. She asked, however, whether the Archbishops could be asked to give a steer on the publication of penalties rather than leave it entirely in the hands of the tribunal.

The Chair of the House of Laity, Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham), also a member of the Clergy Discipline Commission, noted that the code had been re-examined and reapproved last year. The current debate was about the amendments, not the entire code. The variability in the publication of penalties was currently unjust, he said.

Clive Billenness (Europe) asked for a means whereby a respondent could request the adjournment of their tribunal until a criminal proceeding had concluded.

The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers (Leeds), said that it was hard to imagine how a tribunal process could continue while criminal or employment proceedings were ongoing, given that the Church did not have the powers to compel evidence or witnesses. He also shared the concerns of Archbishop Welby and Dean Ellis.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) moved an adjournment of the business to the next group of sessions. He was alarmed that the Synod would be endorsing other deficiencies in the code of conduct by approving these amendments. Archdeacon Ireland resisted the idea, saying that the session was degenerating into a proxy for a wider debate about the code of practice, which had been approved overwhelmingly by the Synod last year. The vote was only on three technical amendments that responded to a request from the Synod.

The adjournment motion was lost.

Backing the amendments, the Vicar-General of the Province of York, the Rt Worshipful Peter Collier, commented that cuts to funding for the police, Crown Prosecution Service, and courts meant that many criminal cases were now taking four to five years to conclude.

Dr Inge said that the proposed new Clergy Conduct Measure, which he would bring for debate the next day, included the changes being voted on today.

Replying to Archbishop Welby, Archdeacon Ireland said that accidental mistakes would never lead to a publishable penalty under the CDM.

The motion to approve the amendments to the Code of Practice was carried.

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